Tag Archives: aircraft

Steel foam could replace aluminum in aircraft wings

A novel hybrid material that resembles metal foam could someday replace aluminum in the leading edges of aircraft wings.

The composite metal foam. Credit: North Carolina State University.

The new material developed at North Carolina State University is a combination of a steel composite metal foam (CMF) and epoxy resin. The mixture is just as light as aluminum, but tougher and with additional characteristics that make it highly desirable for aerospace applications.

Afsaneh Rabiei, lead author of the new study, and colleagues call their hybrid material infused composite metal foam (CMF).

Metal foams are made of hollow, metallic spheres — usually made from stainless steel or titanium — that are embedded in a metallic matrix made of steel, aluminum or metallic alloys. This configuration makes metal foams incredibly light and tough at the same time. Tests performed by other researchers in the past showed that CMFs can withstand a .50 caliber bullet, as well as resist high temperatures and the blast pressure from a high explosive incendiary device.

For their study, the North Carolina State University researchers employed a steel-steel CMF, meaning both the spheres and the matrix were made of steel. They then infused the CMF in a hydrophobic (water-repelling) epoxy resin. Vacuum forces pulled the resin through both the hollow spheres and the tiny pores found in the steel matrix.

During one experiment, the researchers designed a head-to-head test between the infused CMF and aerospace-grade aluminum, which evaluated how the two performed in three key areas: contact angle (how fast water streams off of an aircraft’s wing), insect adhesion (how well bugs stick to the wing), and particle wear (resistance to erosion). All of these factors influence the performance of an aircraft’s leading edge.

The contact angle is simply a measure of how well water is repelled by a surface, such as an aircraft’s wing. If the wing builds up water, it can significantly lower the aircraft’s performance. In the new study, the researchers found that the infused CMF had a contact angle which was 130% higher than aluminum.

Meanwhile, the infused CMF also outperformed aluminum for insect adhesion, measured as the maximum height of insect residue that builds up on a material and by the amount of area covered by insect residue. The infused CMF had 60% better protection against insect adhesion with regard to height and 30% with regard to the surface area.

The CMF also fared better than aluminum in erosion tests — retaining a contact angle that was 50% higher than aluminum. This is particularly important from an economic standpoint since it implies a longer lifetime for a leading-edge wing made from infused CMF.

Aluminum’s mix of physical and chemical properties make it an extremely important material in our modern world, with applications ranging from making cans and foils to CNG storage options and of course, planes. Aluminum is an infinitely recyclable material, and its recycling is also very efficient — recycling takes up to 95% less energy than producing primary aluminum. However, researchers are increasingly looking at other alternatives that could be cheaper or more effective. In this particular case, the metal foam looks like a very promising option.

“Aluminum is currently the material of choice for making the leading edge of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft wings,” Rabiei says. “Our results suggest that infused CMF may be a valuable replacement, offering better performance at the same weight.

“By the same token, the results suggest that we could use different materials for the matrix or spheres to create a combination that performs as well as conventional aluminum at a fraction of the weight. Either way, you’re improving performance and fuel efficiency.”

The findings appeared in the journal Applied Surface Science.

Credit: ZeroAvia.

Hydrogen-powered aircraft with 500 miles range is set to disrupt aviation

A small six-seat airplane that is entirely powered by hydrogen rather than fossil fuels is the largest zero-emissions aircraft in the world. For the last year, the plane designed by ZeroAvia, a California-based startup, has been in tests and only recently surfaced to the public’s attention. It allegedly has a 500-mile range which might lead to massive reductions in aircraft emissions if the technology is applied at scale.

Credit: ZeroAvia.

Credit: ZeroAvia.

The air travel industry is thought to be responsible for 900 million metric tons of CO2 emissions a year. The industry has pledged to reduce aircraft emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels but how could that realistically ever happen considering how the rate of air travel is surging? Around the world, airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers in 2018, an increase of 38 million compared to the year before.

Our only chance of drastically reducing air travel emissions isn’t to fly less but to radically alter how aircraft are powered.

There are various entrepreneurs and companies who are looking to disrupt the industry. Eviation, for instance, is a startup that designing 100% battery-electric planes.

ZeroAvia, on the other hand, has eyed hydrogen. Researchers at ZeroAvia argue that it is difficult to fly battery-electric aircraft over long ranges, whereas hydrogen fuel cells are nearly four times as energy dense as the most advanced battery currently available on the market. What’s more, high-density batteries have to be frequently replaced which translates into more cost for airlines.

Credit: ZeroAvia.

Credit: ZeroAvia.

Meanwhile, aircraft with a drive train powered by hydrogen might actually save airlines money — at least for short flights, which are quite a few. The industry estimates that nearly half of global flights are 500 miles or less.

Theoretically, there is no physical constraint on the hydrogen power train. However, larger planes with longer range would require more safety tests. At the moment, ZeroAvia is employing liquid hydrogen stored in carbon fiber cylinders.

In the future, ZeroAvia plans on demonstrating a 20-seat model. It is already in talks with several airlines, which have expressed interest in the technology.

Reno Airshow.

Shooting stars: a look at the world’s speediest jet aircraft

If you like to go fast, you’ve come to the right place.

Reno Airshow.

Image credits Todd MacDonald.

Jet aircraft are, arguably, the crowning achievement of today’s aeronautics industry. And yet, experts predict that we’ll see massive improvements in their capabilities over the next decade. Supersonic business jets (SSBJs) are one of the most eagerly anticipated of these vehicles, and they should be commercially available in the next four to five years.

But that’s in the future — what about today? What are the fastest jets you can get on board of today, and what are the fastest you probably won’t be allowed to fly? Let’s find out.

Friendly jets, fighter jets

Unsurprisingly, military forces around the world have a monopoly on the fastest jets today. So, in order to give this list some balance, I’ll place both civilian and military jets side by side, even though they’re generally in entirely different leagues. I’ll try to be short on the details for most contenders on this list — partly because some are boring and easy to find online, while others are straight-up classified information — but I’ll give you a little extra on the last two jets.

So let’s get on board.

Bombardier Global Express / Global 5000/6000 (mixed-use, in active service)

Global 6000.

Bombardier Global 6000 operated by VistaJet Malta.
Image credits James / Flickr.

A nice little private jet to start our list with, the Global can reach speeds of up to Mach 0.9 (Mach 1 is the speed of sound). The 5000 variant is slightly smaller, while the 6000 variant is larger and also sees (and is modified for) military operations. These include airborne radar and control, battlefield communications, surveillance, and maritime patrol.

Cessna 750 Citation X+ (civilian, in active service)

Cessna 750 Citation X.

Cessna 750 Citation X.
Image credits Papas Dos / Flickr.

The Citation X+ is one of the fastest civilian aircraft in the skies today, able to reach Mach 0.935. (close to 717 miles / 1154 kilometers per hour). It’s a bit larger than the older Citation X and boasts a higher cruising speed, payload, and range. It’s still very pretty, though.

Сухой Су-27 / Sukhoi Su-27 “Flanker” (military, in active service)


A Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 at the RIAT airshow, 2017.
Image credits Airwolfhound / Wikimedia.

Zis is ze Russian menace, comrades. Developed as an air superiority fighter to counter novel US fighters in the early 70s, the Su-27 subsequently took on all manners of air combat missions. With a huge payload of rockets and bombs, a 30-mm gun, very good maneuverability, and a maximum speed in excess of Mach 2.25 it definitely deserves a place on our list.

The Su-27 found its fans in Soviet, Russian, and other nations’ military command structures. This airplane is still in use and has served as a base for a lot of later variants.

McDonnell Douglas F-15 “Eagle” (military, active)


Image credits Shannon Collins / Flickr.

Remember how the Sukhoi was designed to “counter novel US fighters”? This was one of those novel fighters. It was actually a very good plane for its age and can still hold its own against more modern adversaries. The Eagle took its maiden flight in 1972 and was accepted into service in 1976. It is among the most successful Cold War fighters, with over 100 victories and no losses in aerial combat. Goes a bit over Mach 2.5.

Like its arch-rival, the F-15 was designed as an air superiority fighter and has served as a base for multiple variants. Unlike the Sukhoi, however, it has less impressive ground strike capabilities (due to a lower payload). It is a more specialized counterpart to the Soviet jack of all trades. While both look smashing, sorry democracy, but I like the Sukhoi just a tad more.

Микоян МиГ-31 / Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31 “Foxhound” (military, active)

Russian Air Force MiG-31.

A Russian Air Force MiG-31 in flight.
Image credits Dmitriy Pichugin / Airliners.net

If the world’s Russian stereotype could become a plane overnight, this would be it. Is it pretty? No. Does it need to be? Also no. Can it run solely on vodka? Probably. Is it scary?


One of the fastest jets in the world today, the MiG-31 cruises at Mach 2.83. However, if you’re feeling brave and don’t think a fighter needs its engines and fuselage to hold together, you can push this MiG up to a whopping Mach 3.2. You and your co-pilot, who is manning the MiG’s weapons.

Why so fast? Well, the previous two fighters were designed for air supremacy (i.e. duking it out with opponents to gain control of airspace). That needs poise, a certain grace in flight. The MiG-31, on the other hand, is an interceptor. It is designed around a radar that can track multiple targets, a whole bunch missiles, big, beefy engines, and not much else. Interceptors are meant to climb fast, fly fast, and fly high. Once there, they would pummel enemy bombers and long-range ballistic missiles before circling back to base — rinse and repeat.

The fighter’s upper-speed limit of Mach 3.2 is in no way, shape, or form sustainable if used often. The temperatures and mechanical stress generated from air friction will rip and burn it apart at the same time. But if your job is to shoot down incoming nuclear ballistic rockets, sometimes you just need the speed — whether the plane makes it or not is of secondary concern when whole cities are on the line.

Aérospatiale / BAC Concorde (civilian, retired)


British Airways Concorde G-BOAC
Image credits Eduard Marmet.

The Concorde is an iconic piece of wing. Designed and built in the 1950s (as part of a French-British collaboration between Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation), the Concorde made its maiden flight in 1969. It is the first of the only two supersonic planes to have been operated commercially. The other is the Tupolev Tu-144, which is pretty very similar to the Concorde.

The Concorde could reach speeds of Mach 2.04 (2,180 kph or 1,354 mph) at cruise altitudes, comfortably seating between 92 and 128 passengers. It mostly saw use with wealthy individuals who could afford to pay for the luxury services and thirsty engines high speeds. In 1997, for example, a Concorde trip from London to New York cost just under 8,000 US$ (12,000 US$ in today’s money), around 30 times as much as a ticket on a conventional passenger plane. The trip did, however, only take about three hours.

One of Concorde’s most striking traits is its wings. They were purposefully designed with short-spanning, ogival (or double) delta wings, as drag at supersonic speeds strongly depends on wingspan. Delta wings produce lift by ‘rolling’ air into vortices of low pressure on their upper surface. However, this type of wing can’t be fitted with flaps (control surfaces) and provides relatively poor lift and control at low speeds. That’s why the Concorde’s wings extend over such a huge part of its length — the plane wouldn’t be able to get off the ground without the extra wing surface.

Delta-winged aircraft are particularly cumbersome during take-off and landing because the whole craft has to be angled in lieu of flaps. The Concorde took off and touched down at an extreme angle; the first in order to artificially-increase its lift, and the latter in order to use the wings as airbrakes. This requirement is also why the cockpit can angle itself down.


Air France Concorde landing at JFK in the summer of 1980. So derpy, though.
Image credits Ron Reiring / Flickr.

It experienced high heat during flight; virtually every piece of the plane’s exterior (windows included) were reportedly warm to the touch after landing. The plane could, in practice, fly faster than its advertised specifications, but it was limited to 2.04 Mach as anything faster would melt its aluminium fuselage. Its skin expanded by as much as 1 foot (30 cm) during flight.

High running costs and a ludicrous development price limited the Concorde’s commercial career. The aircraft was also plagued by an immense thirst for fuel and high emissions, and was forbidden from flying at supersonic speed over populated areas as its sonic boom could and would break windows.

On July 25, 2000, a Concorde flying from Paris to New York City suffered critical engine failure shortly after takeoff due to debris from a burst tire rupturing and igniting a fuel tank. The aircraft crashed into a small hotel and restaurant, killing 113 people (100 passengers, 9 crew members, 4 people on the ground). Concorde still supersonically limped until retirement in 2003, but this crash virtually ended its career.

Still, the Concorde made history.

Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird (military, retired)

SR-71 "Blackbird" testing

The SR-71 from Lockheed. Image credits U.S. Air Force.

A high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Developed and built (by Lockheed’s Skunk Works) in the 1960s, the Blackbird remains the world’s fastest jet. Able to go over three times the speed of sound, at 3.3 Mach (4,073 kph / 2,200mph) this plane is a technological jewel. It is also an exercise in extremes, a legend on wings, and the plane that the X-Men fly around.

Designed as a recon and bomber aircraft, it was later earmarked specifically for Strategic Reconnaissance. The requirements placed by the US Government when the project started were — to put it bluntly — hilariously over the top. The Blackbird had to fly higher and for longer than any other plane at the time. It had to be able to hide from (it was the world’s second stealth aircraft) or outrun any Soviet interceptor or air defense platform, deep in enemy territory, with no hope of reinforcement. It had to be stable enough to photograph whatever the Soviets were doing, 90.000 feet (27.432 meters) below. It needed unique life support systems to keep its crew alive, on missions that would take hours upon hours at a time.

Somehow, the designers delivered, and created a vehicle in a class of its own. “Everything had to be invented. Everything.” recalls Kelly Johnson, one of the main designers of the aircraft. As a telling example, the Blackbirds’ engines come equipped with unique air intake vanes that shift position mid-flight to keep the bleeding edge of its sonic boom out of the engine cowlings. Without these, the SR-71 would literally fly so fast that incoming air would explode its engines clean out of the frame.

Blackbird profile.

Image credits National Museum of the USAF.

No expense was spared for this jet. In an age when the American aircraft industry used titanium with extreme stinginess (it was very expensive and hard to acquire), the SR-71’s structure was 85% titanium. It was high-grade stuff, too — Lockheed engineers refused roughly 80% of the titanium shipments they received due to it not being pure enough for the job. No other alloy was strong enough to resist the immense forces its engines bellowed out while being light enough to keep it fast. Lesser metals would simply melt off the aircraft mid-flight due to air friction close to its maximum speeds. Lockheed had to develop new tools and procedures to work with titanium, as it does become very brittle during construction and will break if mishandled — these are still being used today.

Temperatures on the aircraft’s leading edges were expected to exceed 538 degrees Celsius (1,000 Fahrenheit) during flight. At the same time, ambient temperatures outside the cockpit window would be -60 degrees Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius) due to its extreme cruising altitude. The inside of the windshield reached 250 degrees F (120 °C) at Mach 3.2.

Blackbird Canards.

Lockheed A-12 (SR 71 Blackbird predecessor) wind-tunnel test models at NASA Langley, showing an interesting canard configuration as well as the more familiar configuration that was ultimately used.
Image and caption credits NASA via Wikimedia.

This plane could abuse itself so much — the extreme conditions it experienced during flight made it usually return from missions with missing rivets, panels ripped off, and parts such as inlets needing replacement — that the US Air Force needed about a week’s time to get them back to shape after a sortie. There were cases where repair teams needed a whole month to get the planes back into shape.

According to military reports, the Blackbirds logged 53,490 total flight hours and 11,008 mission flight hours. During this time, over four thousand strikes have been fired in anger against them. None found its mark. They were retired from active service in the 1990s.

Still, from the delicious design and ludicrous requirements to the excellent service record and sheer ability of this airplane, it remains a legend among its kin.

Credit: Pixnio.

How Virtual Reality is poised to change the aviation industry

Credit: Pixnio.

Credit: Pixnio.

Although technologists, media outlets, and fictions have been teasing it for decades, it’s only these past couple of years that technology has caught up with consumers’ ambition for virtual reality (VR). VR is particularly exciting for gaming and entertainment, but it also the potential to radically transform many other industries and aspects of our lives. For instance, VR is now helping surgeons with complicated operations by offering cyber training or treating patients with schizophrenia by providing a visual space where they can meet the voices that torment them. Another huge area that’s set to be impacted by VR is aviation, where it has the power to revamp the industry. Here’s how.

Enhancing the flight experience

Some flights can take as much as eight hours, which can be excruciatingly boring. People usually pass the time by reading books, watching a movie, or listening to music. By its very nature, however, VR is a far more immerse form of entertainment which might help make that flight from London to New York just a little more bearable.

In-flight VR could also help people who are afraid of flying. Instead of going through a traumatizing experience for hours, passengers can immerse themselves in a calm environment of their choosing, whether it is somewhere in nature or a stadium watching football. And for those on the opposite side of the spectrum, you could even enjoy a view of the air plane’s outside surroundings as if you were a bird high above the clouds.

Training the next generation of pilots

Credit: Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim).

Credit: Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim).

VR is now offering a new way to train pilots beyond the capabilities of traditional flight simulators. As in a simulator, VR flight simulator’s such as Bohemia Interactive’s BISimulator offer cadets access to flight controls that are analogous to those in a real cockpit. However, the immerse experience means that would-be pilots go through a more realistic training scenario. Another added benefit is that training wouldn’t have to be limited by cumbersome equipment and space. Simulators emulate different kinds of cockpits for different kinds of aircraft training, whereas VR training is a lot more versatile and portable. This alone could save billions across the industry.

The French military is already using VR to train their pilots, according to a 2007 study.

Cabin crew training

The advantages of VR training also extends to the cabin crew, which needs to be prepared for all kinds of special situations like emergency landings, passengers in need of medical assistance, and even terrorist hijacking. For instance, a company called Future Visual designed software that allows trainees equipped with a VR headset to inspect airplane models. Everything is exactly as in a real airplane, allowing trainees to learn first hand how emergency doors and other important features of each aircraft work without having to keep an aircraft grounded for training and having to use a lifesize model. Again, there’s a lot of potential for saving costs.

Aircraft engineering

Modeling in 3D has been a ubiquitous tool in many engineering disciplines for decades. Pratt & Whitney, an engineering company, has designed virtual reality tools that allow aviation mechanics and engineers to peer inside a jet engine, for instance. There’s even an “exploded view” feature that allows engineers to examine the jet engine’s individual parts.

Over the next three to five years, as graphics cards to operate VR become cheaper, higher-end cards will be able to drive very large models of millions of polygons with complex lighting and shading. This is when VR engineering will truly become exciting.

There’s also many other unexplored areas of aviation where VR might make an impact. This kind of technology is still in its infancy, so one can only guess what kind of developments and exciting new features will be enabled when VR and aviation fully cross paths. So far, they’re only starting to know each other.


Novel video shows what drone impacts can do to planes. Spoiler alert: it’s very, very bad

Drones: they’re small, they’re kinda cute, and they’re really cool. But these little fliers can also be very dangerous, especially to air traffic.


Image credits University of Dayton Research Institute.

New research from the University of Dayton (UoD) Research Institute shows that these buzzing motes of technology pose a real threat to larger aircraft, with a direct impact able to cause severe structural damage to an aircraft’s frame.

Winging it

Given that planes are pretty big vehicles and civilian drones tend not to be that way, it’s easy to assume that the former would suffer only minor damage in the case of a collision. However, a new video released by researchers from the University of Dayton shows that this is far from the truth.

The team traditionally studies a similar hazard: that of mid-flight bird-airplane collisions. While such events aren’t too dangerous for planes, they can cause significant difficulties for pilots and some damage to the vehicle. Some of the most dangerous outcomes of a bird-plane collision include broken windows (and subsequent injuries to the crew), and engine damage. The team’s results are forwarded to the aircraft design industry, which uses the data to bird-proof their planes.

Given their background, the team wondered what the outcome of a drone-plane impact would be. In collaboration with researchers at the Sinclair College National UAS Training and Certification Center, they set up an experiment to find out. The test roughly followed the same layout as bird-impact tests: the team set up a target — the wing of a single-engine Mooney M20 — on a fixed mount, shot a drone at it at speeds similar to that of a flying aircraft, and filmed the whole thing. In effect, this simulates a plane hitting a drone during flight.

The footage shows that a drone can cause significant damage to an airplane, should they collide at full speed. Rather than breaking apart, bounding off, or glancing off (like birds tend to do), the drone acted like a cannonball — it tore through the vehicle’s fuselage, causing extensive internal damage. Most worryingly, it chewed right through the wing’s main spar, a key structural unit that carries the plane’s weight (i.e. it’s the part that keeps the wing from breaking off). Damage to the spar has a very high chance of making the plane incapable of flight.

Drone collisions cause greater and more severe damage to planes than birds of comparative size due to their solid motors, batteries, and other parts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported in a study last year. These parts are much stiffer than the flesh of birds (which is mostly water), so they don’t disintegrate, and most often penetrate a vehicle’s skin. That study also says the FAA gets more than 250 sightings a month of drones posing potential risks to planes, most often near airports.

The UoD team says we need to do more extensive testing — using different sizes of drones and aircraft models — to fully understand the risks involved in such collisions. Furthermore, they point to a collision between a civilian quadcopter drone and a military helicopter that occurred last year, saying that it’s nearly certain we’ll see more such events in the future. The helicopter in that collision suffered severe damage to its rotor, but was able to make it back to base, crew unharmed.

The FAA called on drone manufacturers to develop and incorporate technology to detect and avoid planes. Judging from the UoD video, that’s a good first step. Pilots definitely shouldn’t rely on sheer luck, or current planes, to save them in a drone impact — both are flimsy defenses.

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

World’s biggest aircraft completes key milestone ahead of 2019 launch

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

Stratolaunch is by far the world’s largest aircraft. Its wings, spanning an impressive 385 feet (118-m), are roughly the same length as a football field and the craft needs two fuselages with two separate cockpits to stay airborne. Since it was first unveiled to the world in 2017, the aircraft has steadily been gearing towards its much-anticipated maiden flight — slated for 2019. Now, Stratolaunch Systems posted a YouTube video showing the huge aircraft performing a taxi test and reaching a top speed of 46 mph.

Stratolaunch is the brainchild of Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, who has joined the ranks of other tech billionaires that made a transition to aerospace like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or, to some extent, Richard Branson. This isn’t the first time Allen has ventured into the private space industry. In 2004, he funded the construction of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne suborbital spacecraft, which successfully climbed to an altitude of 50,000 feet. It was the first privately funded project to put a civilian into space.

The goal of Allen’s company is to “provide convenient, reliable, and routine access to low-Earth orbit.” While companies like SpaceX have focused on designing reusable rocket boosters to substantially cut down costs, Stratolaunch is taking a slightly different route. Like SpaceX’s boosters, a Stratolaunch will be reusable, enabling very affordable deployment of cargo and satellites into Earth’s low-orbit, for example to the International Space Station, though nowhere as ‘cheaply’ as SpaceX,. It’s a different approach and a different niche market for Stratolaunch, but one that might only help to strengthen the private space industry as a whole.

[panel style=”panel-warning” title=”Stratolaunch specs:” footer=””]Wingspan: 385 ft. (117 m)
Length: 238 ft. (72 m)
Height: 50 ft. (15 m)
Power: six high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines
Weight: 500,000 pounds (250 tons) and needs 28 wheels between its two fuselages

To take off, Stratolaunch needs a 3.6-kilometer runway at the very least. Initially, the plane was supposed to carry a Falcon 9 from SpaceX but now Stratolaunch wants to deploy Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rockets. It can carry and release up to three such rockets at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet (9,100 m), before launching them into space. Rocket launches from this altitude would allow for satellites to more easily enter and then begin circling the globe on a low-Earth orbit, or LEO. Small satellites can be deployed this way into different orbits on the same flight.

Credit: Stratolaunch.

Credit: Stratolaunch.

This weekend, Strato successfully completed a taxi test reaching a top speed of 46 miles per hour. The test assessed the craft’s ability to steer and stop using its controls. The date for its test flight hasn’t been announced yet but we do know that the company is gearing for a 2019 maiden launch.

Strato is also considering developing its own launch systems. According to SpaceNews, the company has hired propulsion engineers and has a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to use a test stand there for “testing of its propulsion system test article element 1.” Company spokesman Steve Lombardi said Strato is in the “early stage” of a propulsion development project.

Aviation 101 : Flight Dynamics

To most people, the sky is the limit.

To those who love aviation, the sky is home.

All vehicles are free to operate in three dimensions i.e the longitudinal, vertical and horizontal axes. But while cars are limited in that they can’t really take off from the streets, airplanes can really take advantage of all axes.

In an aircraft, movements are known by Pitch, Yaw, and Roll, respectively.


Motion about the lateral axis is called pitch. This is a measure of how far an airplane’s nose is tilted up or down and is controlled by the elevator.



Motion about the perpendicular axes is called yaw. It determines which way the nose of the aircraft is pointing.

This is controlled by the movement of the rudder.



Motion about the longitudinal axis is called roll and in aircraft determines how much the wings are banked.


This is controlled by the movement of the aileron.


                                                        The position of the Aileron, Elevator and the Rudder on an airplane

Where do you use it?

Although usually, plane flights are quite monotonous and employ just one type of movement at a time, there is a wide variety of times where all the three have to be employed, like in the crosswind landing. Crosswind landing is a landing maneuver in which a significant component of the prevailing wind is perpendicular to the runway center line.


The above maneuver is known as Crabbing.

The nose points towards the wind so that the aircraft approaches the runway slightly skewed with respect to the runway centerline ( depends on the direction of the wind ). Upon approaching the runway threshold, moments before landing, the pilot aligns the aircraft with the centerline.


And this is easier said than done as it involves the meticulous control of the pitching, yawing and the rolling of the aircraft in order to stick the landing ( as is seen in the animation )

Some more examples

One need not restrict the usage of these terms merely to aircrafts, but can extend it other objects of interest as well.

Cars also experience pitch, roll, and yaw, but the amounts are relatively small and are usually the result of the suspension reacting to turns, accelerations, and road conditions.



For a human- Pitch is like saying Yes. Yaw is when you say No! And roll is when you just wave your head.

Pitch, Yaw and Roll and that’s all there is to it.


Aircraft Climate Change

Climate change will make in-flight turbulence more common and take-offs more difficult

Aircraft Climate Change

Credit: Pixabay

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) assessed the risks the aviation industry will be facing as climate change is set to intensify in the coming decades. Among the biggest vulnerabilities, the authors highlight an increase occurrence of turbulence, take-off difficulties, icing incidents as well as dust storms that might threaten the engines. All of these vulnerabilities need to be addressed in upcoming avionics design as well as airport infrastructure to cope with future threats, if we’re to avoid potentially catastrophic accidents.

These risks will become serious in a couple of decades, but we need to act now

“Aviation is an extremely risk averse business. Climate change poses a new set of risks that airports need to assess properly. The last decades have provided a glimpse of the future climate, but the main effects will be more evident three or four decades from now, and onwards,” the report reads.

“There is thus no reason to panic, but much of the airport infrastructure erected today will be there in the new climate.”

As the surface warms, the density of the air decreases and with it the lift force that an airplane’s wings can generate. Essentially, this will make take-offs trickier. To mitigate, airplanes might need to carry fewer passengers or cargo and airports might need to build longer runways. Airports located in high altitudes in subtropical regions are most vulnerable due to this effect. Already, many airports schedule the bulk of their flights for the evening and night when the cooler temperature raises air density, but this window will get slimmer and slimmer in the coming decades.

In other parts of the world, global warming will increase the moisture in the air, which ironically favors icing. This means new airplanes might need to use rubbery coatings that slide ice off, like the one we presented earlier on ZME Science.

“On the other hand, high-altitude icing is also likely to increase with more intense cumulonimbus (CB) clouds,” the report cautions.

“Another possibility is that increased shear within the jet streams at cruising levels may reduce the stability of the atmosphere and increase the likelihood of clear-air turbulence breaking out,” the report said.

Droughts and stronger winds triggered by increased temperatures and more heat energy in the atmosphere could also impact flight safety, and although flying and sea level rise don’t seem to add up the report warns that many airports are vulnerable. For instance, 20 of Norway’s 45 airports are vulnerable to future sea level rise.

“The robustness of aircraft and indeed the robustness of the entire aviation system should be monitored carefully, as the sector will have to prepare for the more extreme meteorological conditions that are expected in the future as the climate continues to change,” the report’s authors cautioned.